Starting As I Mean To Go On ~ The Big De-Clutter, Or This Writer’s Extra-Convoluted Displacement Activity?

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Well not so much de-cluttering as re-arranging, though somehow I’ve ended up with a whole BIG EMPTY drawer beneath the cabin bed in the office. I should of course see this as a great achievement on day one of 2018, but I’m afraid the whole process has made me very ratty. Not a good way to start the year.

One problem is I find myself at the end of the line for two branches of family memorabilia – in particular the material evidence of the lives of two deceased aunts – maternal and paternal. I was very fond of them, Miriam and Evelyn, and we three had much in common. Both were passionate gardeners, readers, writers, watchers, makers, generous authors of many small kindnesses. And both were keen on family history, gathering in whatever they could in the days before Ancestry and Find My Past.

I now have their gleanings – barely readable notes, diaries, photographs – all the makings of good stories if only someone could knock the stuff into a shape that would mean something to family others. That someone has to be me. And I think I should do it, because if I don’t, no one else will. And that’s when I start getting cross. Imposition looms like a heavy, wet fog. Hmph.

The moving of the auntly archive from the pine blanket chest in one bedroom to the pine chest of drawers in another bedroom (so facilitating the BIG emptying of the office drawer into the now empty pine blanket chest) leads to encounters with my own archive. The aunts kept most of the letters I wrote to them during our eight years in Africa. They are very detailed letters. I need to revisit them. Well I do, don’t I? Then there are all the Africa photos and negatives. I never did finish scanning them.

More long-winded tasks loom.

Not only that, when you start shunting stuff around the house, and arguing with yourself over what should be kept, and what should not, you then find all sorts of diversions.  And yet the whole point of the de-cluttering process was so I could free up the office, create clear spaces for laying out the notes relating to some of the several unfinished writing projects that have long lodged on my brain’s back boiler.

Which is where this photo comes in. As I was sorting through boxes and folders, I found a forgotten scan of it, taken by Graham many New Years ago at the Bronze Age stone circle, Mitchell’s Fold in the Shropshire borderland. You will notice that my blog header is cropped from another scanned version of it. That’s me all huddled up in many layers. But I love the huge wintry sky above me, and the blue hills of Wales stretching far, far away behind me. It’s reminding me that this is where my head needs to be. Never mind the clutter. It’s a piece of very elaborate self-sabotage. Off to the realm of imagination, that’s where writers need to be.

Thank you, Julie Riso, for reminding me of where the best paths are.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

“the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns” ~ Or Is It?

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Every other Thursday we’ve taken to popping along Wenlock Edge to Church Stretton. This used to be Graham’s daily commute – eighteen miles of Shropshire hills, old quarries, small villages and neat farm fields. Oh yes, and the occasional deer. Just now the Edge woodlands along the road are a haze of blue bells and bursting greenery. We never fail to think how lucky we are to live in such a place.

The object of the excursion is to stock up on organic and other ethically produced foodstuffs at my sister Jo’s brilliant shop – Entertaining Elephants  (a name coined by the previous owners from Maurice ‘Where the Wild Things Are’   Sendak’s  Alligators All Around  alphabet book.

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With the shopping done, a few picnic items gathered together, and the weather apparently in spring-mode, we decided to head west around the southern end of the Long Mynd towards Bishops Castle and the Welsh Border, and so to the Bronze Age stone circle of Mitchell’s Fold.

The last time we were there was at least twelve years ago and it had been snowing (see header photo). I don’t remember what prompted us on that occasion to drive out to so remote a place in such bad weather. We weren’t even living in Shropshire at that time, but in the midst of Christmas visiting from Kent. I remember tramping up the icy track to the circle, and despite the bitter cold, being entranced. All of Wales spread before us. It was like standing on top of the world – a parallel universe of Celtic warriors, old gods, poets and shamans.

On Thursday our notions of spring proved deceptive. Once out of the valleys the wind was vicious. We huddled in the car on top of Stapeley Hill to eat the picnic since attempts to stand outside blew the food away. While doing this we observed and were observed by a passing police Range Rover, which carried on over the hill track on a route that was distinctly signed ‘no vehicles’ and disappeared into Wales.

Police car – what police car. There it was gone. Very odd.

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Having got ourselves this far, we determined not to give into wimpishness, and inappropriate clothing, and pressed through the gale to Mitchell’s Fold. Of course it was not ideal photographing conditions due to wind, haze, midday light and cold fingers.

An English Heritage information board had made an appearance since our last visit, although I thought its proximity to the circle rather insensitive. It anyway did not have a great deal to tell us, other than the monument is now believed to be at least 3,000 years old, and that the largest of the standing stones was once one of a pair, probably forming an impressive portal. I’m assuming that the presumed partner is the one you can see lying prone beside it. The stones are local dolerite.

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As stone circles go, it is no Stonehenge, but it does have the edge (in all senses) when it comes to setting:

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Looking back into Shropshire from the circle (and on maximum Lumix zoom) you can see the cairn-like summit of the Devil’s Chair on the ridge of hills known as Stiperstones, a wild terrain of old mine shafts, ghosts, satanic dread and legend:

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And then when I turned back to the stone circle, there was that strange lone figure loping through the stones. Here he is again (btw the title quote is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet ).

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It seemed like a good moment to leave, although not before agreeing that we would return in summer – with hopefully more warmth and some clearer skies.

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As ever, as we return to the car, Graham is in my shot. Here though he is providing a convenient marker for some ancient  medieval rig and furrow plough marks. You can just make out the light and dark stripes running  north-south in the cropped grass behind him. At least I’m assuming that this is Graham and not another traveller from the undiscovered country of Shakespeare’s imagined after-life. In places like Mitchell’s Fold you just never do know.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

P.S. For more on the earlier trip to Mitchell’s Fold see my long ago post Witch-catching in the Shropshire Wilds – also including the legend about the wicked witch Mitchell, who gave the place its name.

Even though she’s off on her travels again, and by way of wishing her the best of times, I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk

 

 

Far away in black and white in the Shropshire Hills

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These photos were taken at the Bronze Age stone circle of Mitchell’s Fold, up in the South Shropshire hills. It seems isolated now, but four thousand years ago there was much human activity in these uplands. There are the remains of field systems from this era as well as burial cairns and other stone monuments. In more recent times this stone circle has been associated with the legend of a wicked witch called Mitchell. She is reputed to be entrapped within the stones. You can read more of this story at Witch-catching in the Shropshire Wilds.

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

 

With thanks to Cee for her brilliant challenges, and to Graham for the use of his photos.

Cee’s Black & White and Far Away Challenge

Of Monumental Mysteries

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”   L P Hartley The Go-Between      

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So what’s the mystery here? No, not that strange woman in a Welsh felted hat doing tai chi. (Actually,  I think I may be in the process of ‘grasping the sparrow’s tail’ Yang-style long form. I’ve rather forgotten).  I remember, though, the icy winter’s day, and the absolute stillness, and the hazy blue views of Wales over the border from my Shropshire homeland, and the feeling that this circle of ancient stones was a special place; that it stirred in me the sense that doing tai chi here would be a good thing.

I have written before about Mitchell’s Fold Bronze Age stone circle,  and you can find the witchy legend associated with it  HERE.  Historically speaking, little is known about the stones  beyond the fact that they were raised some 4,000 years ago. The surviving fifteen stones form a rough circle, although there may have once been as many as thirty. The tallest survivor is said to have originally been one of a pair, and so formed some kind of gateway or threshold at the circle’s edge.

These henges are, on the whole, unfathomable. There is no knowing how the people, who toiled to build them, made use of them, or what their precise significance was in their daily lives. The elevated location of Mitchell’s Fold, with its sweeping vistas, suggests to us a sacred function. There are also possibilities that the stones’ particular alignment served as some kind of calendar, marking solar and lunar events. And, for more prosaic purposes, in a world without maps and SatNav, prominently sited megaliths may also have provided travellers with landmarks to keep them on course through the upland wilds. The Bronze Age was, after all, a time of intinerant smiths and artisans who covered great distances to trade their goods and services.

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This is borne out by the fact that not far from Mitchell’s Fold, just over the Welsh border in Powys,  is the Cwm Mawr Bronze Age axe factory. The distinctive looking axe-hammers that were made here have been found across Wales and England, their discovery demonstrating an extensive trading network. Nor is this henge an isolated monument in the immediate landscape. There are numerous cairns and two further stone circles nearby. This seemingly remote place, then, was very busy some four millennia ago.

As a Prehistory undergraduate, also in times long past, I spent three years in Sheffield University lecture theatres looking at images of barrows, chambered tombs, henges, hillforts, cist burials, urn cremations and other ancestral relics. This being the era of slide projection, the photographs were often shown upside down and back to front; it became a standing (or otherwise) joke, looking at remains from an inverted position. The fact is though, however you looked at them, their intrinsic meaning  could  not be divined. All that might be said is that these mysterious constructions were of immense importance to our forebears. We know this because of the great effort involved in their making; these were people who, by our standards, had very limited technology.

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And so here is another example of megalithic mystery. This is the late Stone Age (Neolithic) Lligwy burial chamber on Anglesey in Wales. Excavation in 1908-9 uncovered the remains of 15-30 people, along with pottery that provided the dating evidence. It is estimated that the capstone weights 25 tonnes. This is truly mind-boggling. How did people without cranes lift this monstrosity onto the supporting stones? How  many people did it take? Wasn’t the population in prehistory supposed to be small?

Of course experimental archaeology has demonstrated that much may be achieved with the cunning use of tree trunk rollers and various simple pulley devices combined with muscle power. But even so,  the Lligwy burial chamber is surely  a triumph of human will  over an absence of hydraulic lifting gear. In this era people had only stone tools.

So yes, the past is a foreign country, and people did do things differently there, and in ways we cannot possibly know. And if I learned anything from three years of studying Prehistory and Archaeology it was not to judge people by their limited toolkit. These people were as intelligent as we are, maybe more so, since there was a greater need to apply it at all times.

Our current understanding of these  monuments may be fragmentary, wrong-headed even, but shouldn’t this be all the more reason to keep these ancient places safe? At this present time in England our heritage is daily under threat from a government that wishes to build its way out of  recession.  Worse still, current laws allow developers to take local authorities to judicial review  if their  planning applications are refused.

To avoid  incurring huge costs to the public in legal representation, local authorities are now being pushed to grant planning permission in close proximity to unique monuments.  At present, in Shropshire, the setting of  2 major sites  is under threat: Old Oswestry Iron Age hillfort, and the post-Roman Offa’s Dyke. Why this is happening is of course absolutely no mystery at all.  The past has cachet. It is a highly sellable ‘commodity’. Let’s sell it off, why don’t we?

© 2014 Tish Farrell

Related:

Valuing the Past: How  much for Old Oswestry Hillfort?

Open to Offa’s: yet another piece of Shropshire’s heritage at risk  in The Heritage Journal  along with many other excellent articles

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument

Colourbridge

Life is great

Leya

Travel Garden Eat

PonderTheIrrelevant

The Human Rights Warrior

FRIZZ’S TAGGED ‘O’  GO HERE FOR MORE ‘O’ STORIES

Witch-catching in the Shropshire wilds

 

Travel theme: wild

 

Naturally, suffering as I do from Out-of-Africa-itis (some of you may just have noticed this)  any mention of ‘wild’ instantly conjures the sweeping Mara grasslands and herds of wildebeeste.  Or scenes of Zambia’s South Luangwa as featured in the last post (here). But then I thought it was time I took more joy in the place where I actually live  and, indeed, grew up – the wonderfully rural county of Shropshire. And for those of you who do not know England, Shropshire is in the Midlands, along the border with Wales. Also as I have mentioned in other posts, this segment of Great Britain was once (400 million years ago) to be found somewhere off East Africa. Shropshire’s rocks are thus among the world’s oldest, and its hills a magnet for geologists from all over the planet.

My home county, then, is largely farming country – dairy, sheep, and arable – the population living in scattered small settlements and market towns, many dating back to Roman times and the early Middle Ages. But there are also many wild places, especially up in the hill country overlooking Wales. One such place is Mitchell’s Fold, a Bronze Age stone circle.

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This bleakly sited  monument comes with a strange legend attached – the tale of a wicked witch and a fairy cow. And so one December day Nosy Writer and the Team Leader set off to explore. Winter seemed a good time to go searching for the spirits of the past. The photographs, by the way, are all Graham’s. Nosy Writer said she could not possibly take her gloves off in such frigid conditions.

The site itself is near the Welsh Border on Stapeley Hill, south west Shropshire. The stone circle was created between three and four thousand years ago, and originally comprised thirty stones of local dolerite. Today, only fifteen are visible. Some were perhaps re-purposed by subsequent generations; others buried. Often such circles were regarded with superstitious dread, particularly during the Middle Ages.

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In the prehistoric past, though, the place was not so isolated as it appears today. In the vicinity are two other stone circles, although one of these, known as Whetstones was blown up in the 1860s. The other, Hoarstones, was said by locals to be a fairy ring, where on moonlit nights, six ‘fairesses’ would dance. There are also numerous cairns and a long barrow, and, not too far away,  the Bronze Age stone axe factory of Cwm Mawr whose finely carved mace heads were traded far and wide across England and Wales. Of the reasons for this and the other circles, all is shrouded in mystery. All that may be said is that once these upland places were of great importance to the people who laboured to make them.

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But what about the witch-catching story, I hear you ask. Well that I can tell you. It goes like this.

Once, when there was a terrible famine in the district, the fairies took pity on the starving peasants and sent them a snow-white cow. The cow was kept in a circle of stones on Stapeley Hill, and, as with all such gifts, there were strict conditions as to usage. Every person was allowed to milk the cow by turns, but only so long as  the cow was never milked dry, and each person took no more than one pail full.

Everyone followed these instructions, and all went well until the wicked old witch who lived nearby grew envious of the peoples’ good fortune. Why had they not called on her to solve their problems? Her name was Mitchell, and out of sheer spite, she thought up an evil plan.

And so one night, when all honest folks were asleep in their cottages, she approached the cow and began to milk it. The only thing was, the bottom of her bucket was full of holes. She milked and milked until the cow was dry, thus breaking the fairy charm. At once the cow sank into the ground, never to be seen again. But Mitchell did not escape either. She had challenged the forces of good too far and found herself trapped inside the stones. And when the people came next day and saw their fairy cow gone,  and they saw the false pail and pool of wasted milk, they knew exactly what the witch had done. So just to  make sure she never escaped, they walled up old Mitchell inside the stone circle, where she was said to have finally starved to death.

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And just in case you are wondering, no, this is not Mitchell’s ghost in the photo, but me, wrapped up in many post-Africa layers. And beyond me, the Welsh hills.

Finally, here are more scenes of Wild Shropshire – in particular, the hills known as the Stiperstones, which featured often in the novels of Shropshire writer, Mary Webb. The last photograph is of the  peak known as the Devil’s Chair. It also features many local legends, but they will have to wait for another post.

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